What Sustainability Means to Small Businesses

by Rebecca Smith Hurd on November 18, 2010
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It is difficult, if not impossible, to talk business these days without hearing or using the word sustainability. With the rise of organic bakeries, eco-friendly dry cleaners, smart-car manufacturers, and the like, the importance of thinking beyond making money, protecting human and natural resources, and of working to clean up America’s old industrial act, is becoming increasingly apparent. Even skeptics have to admit: In many markets, conscientiousness creates competitive edge.

Of course, sustainability can mean many things to many people in the context of small business. Professionals typically associate the term with implementing greener operational practices (such as recycling, conserving energy, and telecommuting), but sustainability also connotes social and economic responsibility. In general, a sustainable small business strives to protect not only the environment, but also the people on whom it relies to function, as well as its fiscal well-being. Experts call this the “triple bottom line” and argue that truly sustainable businesses give the three P’s — people, the planet, and profits — equal priority.

Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? But how does all that translate into everyday, actionable items for very small businesses and sole proprietors? In the coming weeks and months, you’ll find information in this space that demonstrates how your company can save and make money while doing good. Future posts will discuss issues such as: the latest energy-efficient measures being taken by home offices and renters; the U.S. communities that best foster entrepreneurial environments; which government entities give preference to sustainable contract bids; and various ways to maximize human capital (even if you are your only current investment). Everything will be geared toward businesses with fewer than a dozen employees.

As a small-business owner and the newest contributor to Intuit’s blog, I’m also interested in hearing from you. I want to know what entrepreneurs across the U.S. are doing to support their triple bottom lines, so that others might benefit from your stories, successful or otherwise. Please send your comments, case studies, and other considerations to me at  sustainableSB@gmail.com. Sustainability, after all, also means the capacity to endure, which small businesses can bolster by pooling our experiences and resulting wisdom. Whereas alone we may struggle, together we are strong.

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